There is a slight commonality between the circumstances in which Vijay Rupani has been named as the next Gujarat Chief Minister and the one in which Narendra Modi once strengthened his stronghold over the state. It is BJP’s uncertain fortunes in the state. While Modi emerged powerful after the infamous 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in the state, and continued to grow stronger over the years, Rupani comes to occupy CM’s seat when the state is on a politically shaky ground with agitating Patidars and Dalits. Like Modi, Rupani has also inherited the circumstances in which BJP can’t remain self-assured for long.
The party’s decision to let state BJP chief Rupani lead the Gujarat government, instead of the rumored next CM Nitin Patel, seems to be influenced by the party’s aim to bridge the widening gap between Patels and non-Patels in the state. It is believed that Rupani will be more effective as an administrator, that he has firm grip on party machinery. With Rupani, BJP would like the state to move again on the path of development, which seems to have been derailed under Anandiben Patel.
Earlier, it was rumored that Patidar leader and state health minister Nitin would become the Chief Minister. However, the party kept its final decision shrouded in mystery before announcing it in the evening. Nitin’s selection would have been like flirting with the caste and community matrix of the state. Indian Express had reported that Nitin as CM could have widened the divide among Patels and non-Patels. “If Nitin Patel is accepted as CM, it will deepen the divide between Patels and non-Patels. Those who didn’t get a taste of power in the Anandiben government won’t be enthusiastic in their support for him.”
Rupani now faces a number of challenges. The first is to restore BJP’s decreasing popularity in the state in the wake of Patidar and recent Dalit agitations in Gujarat and refuel the development machinery in the state. Assembly elections in Gujarat will be held next year. It will become a major embarrassment for BJP, led at the Centre by former Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, if the party manages a defeat. Several factors have worked in Rupani’ favour. Coming from the minority Jain community, Rupani is considered close to BJP national president Amit Shah, who often likes to keep some surprises with him. The BJP wanted a CM whose image would be less polarising and the one who would unite communities in the next year’s assembly elections.
However, as an appeasement to the Patidar community, BJP announced their leader and state health minister Nitin as the deputy CM. The community has been at the loggerheads with the state government since last year under the leadership of Hardik Patel. Nitin is expected to win back his community for the BJP. This reflected today when Nitin told TV channels that the party would reach out to Patidars. Secondly, Nitin comes from North Gujarat, where Patel agitation continues to trouble the ruling dispensation.
Patels are one of the most important community in Gujarat politics, and perhaps the most for the BJP. In the Anandiben government, Nitin was second-in-command. He never shied away from expressing his chief ministerial aspirations. Earlier on May 5, 2014 Nitin was reported as saying by PTI: “I am ready to be chief minister if party asks me to take up the job” “If you ask this question to any MLA that are you ready to be the chief minister he will reply in positive. If you ask Virat Kohli that would he like to be captain of India obviously he would not say no,” he had said.
By making Rupani the CM of Gujarat, Shah seems to have ticked all boxes right. Will Rupani prove to be another Modi? Even if he becomes half-a-Modi, BJP will survive happily in the state. If not, the bipolar ruling dispensation divided between Nitin and Rupani may consume the party in the state.